Here’s my column from last week’s Leader. It forms part of the paper’s comprehensive pre-match coverage every Friday, featuring interviews, an in-depth look at the opposition and lots of statistical analysis. All content in the column (c) www.leaderlive.co.uk.
The voting opened this week for the official player of the year through The Leader’s website and it’s interesting how the choices tend to wax and wane from one season to the next. Sometimes there’s a raft of contenders, sometimes very few. The lack of obvious options for the award this season tells a story about the way the campaign has gone.
There are some players who have acquitted themselves well enough, but haven’t had enough pitch time to justify a vote as the season’s standout performer. Dean Keates, for instance, has been his usual self, cunning with the ball and tenacious without it. However, the hangover from the injuries he bravely battled through at the end of last season have taken their toll and we’ve seen all too little of him in this campaign.
Likewise, Joe Anyinsah shows flashes of quality but his efforts have been punctuated by injuries which have made it difficult to build any momentum. In a different way, injuries have also hampered a previous winner, Jay Harris, whose form has fluctuated as niggling injuries have affected his ability to consistently be at his fiery best.
Danny Livesey is another player who has performed but he hasn’t been at the club long enough to be a contender.
For me, the choice boils down to a small band of contenders. Mark Carrington has been smoothly impressive in each of the three positions he has been asked to fulfil. Whether called upon at right back, right wing or the centre of midfield he has been consistent, careful with possession and able to drive play forwards. A shrewd acquisition, he has become an essential part of the side.
Johnny Hunt is equally versatile, but seems to suffer for it. I’m not sure anyone is sure where his best position is, but there is no doubt that he gives good value wherever he’s selected. We haven’t seen him often in the central midfield position he filled to good effect for much of last season, but he has filled in well at left back when Neil Ashton hasn’t been available, was lively on the left side of midfield when Billy Barr switched to a 4-4-2 and caused problems with his intelligent movement on the left side of a front three.
Furthermore, he has had easily the most prolific season of his career, kicking on well from that winner at Wembley.
Andy Coughlin has blossomed and ought to be very proud of his progress this season. The more time passes, the more my perception of him changes from able deputy to one of the better keeper at this level.
Also, Joe Clarke’s work rate can never be questioned and he too has done well in front of goal. He’s always capable of a crucial intervention, whether it be a clean strike from the edge of the area or a surging run into the danger area.
On balance though, my vote goes to Hunt. Hopefully he’ll be able to flourish even further if he nails down a regular position in the new set-up.